‘Children’s publishing is going through a second Golden Age.’ BARRY CUNNINGHAM announced.
The children’s writers of the past, Roald Dahl and Spike Milligan to name two of Barry’s conquests, knew how to get inside a child’s head, but also when to accept that the adult knew best.
These days children as readers are much more respected. 36% of all book sales are children’s books. Over half of Young Adult books are bought by adults. 78% of these for their own reading satisfaction. What does that tell you about adult’s books? Publishers and writers both need to listen and respond to the requirements of their target market.
‘Publishing a book is very different from saying whether it is well written.’ he says. Barry stated that his job as a publisher is to find readers for his writers’ books. And if he isn’t able to find those readers, he won’t take on that book.
Ally Sherrick, one of Chicken House’s debut authors, entered the SCBWI 10 word pitch competition and answered correctly. Further reading of Ally’s draft gave Barry the idea of Ally’s ‘voice’. This is what captures the publisher/agent’s attention.
‘Access the child in you,’ he advises, ‘Go back and feel how you felt then.’ Play tricks with narrative.
Villains, whether that be the villainous situation or as an actual person is the most important character. Heroes come and go. ‘Harry is not as important as Voldemort.’
Dialogue is also important. Use it rather than description to show key moments.
For Barry, planning is precious. He has one writer who has killed off the same character twice! ‘Even so, she’s very successful’, he said. Perhaps chose to plan by listing your characters. You will have lots of information that may not go into the book, but it is important stuff to write down as reference that the writer needs to know.
Read your work aloud – this shows you where the weaknesses are.
When you submit your work, take a look at the writers already represented by your chosen agent. And compliment them! Do as you’re told.
Barry is exasperated that there are still some writers who don’t send 3 chapters, a synopsis and covering letter. Make the synopsis short – one side of A4 will do. Agents read hundreds of synopses. Tell the agent something about yourself ‘Perhaps not that you’re a motorcycling vicar.’ he says, but ‘what you have planned for your character’.
Everyone wants to know about book 2. Barry didn’t suggest that there might not be one.
Use the Publisher/Agents website. Here you’ll find details of competitions and open days.
The children’s market is fiercely competitive. But it is still an industry that does dreams. Chicken House relishes finding new voices and ‘if it is good enough, children will follow you through the back of the wardrobe’.